Occupational therapy provides important health and rehabilitation services to clients who are suffering from injuries, disabilities, mental health problems, or other impairments and need specialized care to regain, develop, or build occupations – daily activities like self-care, personal hygiene, financial management, work, education, play, leisure, wellness, spirituality, social participation and other productive activities.
Occupational therapists work with clients across the lifespan in a variety of settings, from neonatal wards to acute care rehabilitation centers to elder care facilities. Some occupational therapists help children achieve developmental milestones, while others might work with clients who are recovering from aging-related ailments, such as strokes or hip replacements.
A large segment of occupational therapy provides care for people who are recovering from injury or surgery, who may need assistance modifying their homes and workplaces to accommodate them, so they can live full and productive lives. Mental health is also a focus. Occupational therapists help clients to develop coping strategies to overcome mental health issues.
The occupations in occupational therapy, as described by the American Occupational Therapy Association, are identified as:
- Activities of daily living (ADLs) – activities oriented toward taking care of one’s own body, including bathing, showering, toileting and toilet hygiene, dressing, feeding, and personal hygiene care.
- Instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) – activities to support daily life in the home and community that require more complex interactions than ADSs, such as caring for children or pets, driving, financial management, meal and medication management, shopping, and religious and spiritual activities.
- Rest and sleep – activities related to obtaining restorative rest and sleep to support healthy, active engagement in other occupations, like creating a sleep routine, napping, dreaming, and sustaining sleep without disruption.
- Education – activities needed for learning and participating in the educational environment, including participating in academic activities, instructional classes or training programs.
- Work – activities related to employment interests, job seeking and acquisition, job performance, retirement preparation or adjustment, and volunteer participation and exploration.
- Play – spontaneous or organized activities that provide enjoyment, entertainment, amusement or diversion.
- Leisure – nonobligatory activities engaged in during discretionary time, like identifying interests and taking up hobbies, and planning and participating in leisure activities.
- Social participation – engaging in activities on the community, family, and friend levels, in small or large groups.
Occupational therapy is one of the oldest allied health professions in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, California already employs more occupational therapists than any other state in the nation, but with less than one occupational therapist for every 1000 clients in the state, more are needed, particularly in underserved rural northern California.